Leaders from the Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach joined President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama today along with hundreds of college presidents and other higher education leaders to announce new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college.
Just prior to President Obama’s remarks, Long Beach’s signature education collaborative, the Long Beach College Promise, was featured prominently during a live-streaming, national panel discussion, where LBCC President Eloy Ortiz Oakley detailed the ongoing effort that has brought significant gains in college readiness, enrollment and success.
The White House College Opportunity Day of Action at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. followed the first College Opportunity Day held last January, when the President and First Lady joined more than 140 college presidents and other education leaders to announce commitments to expand college opportunity.
“At the heart of the American ideal,” the President said this week, “is this sense that we’re in it together, that nobody’s guaranteed success, but everybody’s got access to the possibilities of success, and that we are willing to work not just to make sure our own children have pathways to success but that everybody does – that at some level everybody is our kid, everybody is our responsibility. We are going to give back to everybody. And we do that because it’s the right thing to do, and we do it because selfishly that’s how this country’s going to advance and everybody’s going to be better off. Big challenges like these should galvanize our country. Big challenges like these should unite us.”
This week’s event was designed to build on the commitments announced at the January event, with more than 300 college presidents and other leaders launching initiatives in new areas. Among those college presidents was CSULB President Jane Close Conoley, who committed to raising freshman graduation rates by 5 percent per year by 2020 and then another 5 percent by 2025. With about 4,000 freshmen admitted each year, these increases would translate to 2,000 additional graduates by 2025. The university also is committing to building upon the Long Beach College Promise collaboration that began in 2008 with LBUSD and LBCC.
“Cal State Long Beach is proud to share its part in the Long Beach College Promise’s success with President Obama, Vice President Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and all the participants in this Day of Action,” Conoley said. “Since the Promise first launched in 2008, the university has seen a 43 percent increase in freshmen enrolling from the Long Beach Unified School District. And, College Promise freshmen from Long Beach Unified and transfers from Long Beach City College remain enrolled at a higher rate than non-local California students. Those are things to shout about!”
At the invitation of President Obama and the First Lady, Conoley joined LBCC President Oakley and LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser at the event. The all-day program’s schedule included remarks from President Obama, the First Lady and the Vice President.
“President Obama recognizes that increasing the number of college graduates, particularly for students of color, is critical to our nation’s future,” said LBCC’s President Oakley. “Here in Long Beach, we’re making great strides toward increasing college access for all students. We’re fully committed to building upon our work with our K-12 schools and state university, and we’re delighted to share our successes on this national stage.”
All three education leaders from Long Beach, also at the invitation of the White House, were invited to attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting the same evening (learn more at thenationaltree.org).
This week’s event focused on building networks of colleges for promoting completion, investing in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, creating K-16 partnerships to improve college readiness, and increasing the number of college graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. The day of action helps to support the President’s commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders and nonprofits to help the United States reach its goal of leading the world in college attainment.
President Obama announced new ways his Administration is helping to support these actions, including $10 million to help promote college completion, and a $30 million AmeriCorps program to improve low-income students’ access to college.
Expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class, according to a White House statement. Today, only 9 percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile. To expand college access, the Obama Administration has increased Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year, created the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, limited student loan payments to 10 percent of income, and laid out an agenda to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition, the White House stated.
The event this week also focused on building sustainable collaborations in communities with strong K-12 and higher education partnerships, including partnerships such as the Long Beach College Promise.
“It’s a great honor to be invited to the White House College Opportunity Summit to share what’s working in Long Beach schools," LBUSD’s Superintendent Steinhauser said. "Our college and career readiness efforts are producing solid results for students, and we’re always building on these efforts. One of the ways we continually improve is by learning from other communities that have strong K-12 and higher education partnerships, and a summit like this one helps educators exchange their best ideas. We’re proud to be part of such a worthwhile endeavor at the national level.”
The College Promise was first signed in 2008 by leaders from LBUSD, LBCC and CSULB to help students prepare for, and succeed in, college. LBUSD graduates can receive a tuition-free semester at LBCC and guaranteed admission to CSULB if they meet minimum requirements at the university.
More than 5,600 high school graduates have benefited from free enrollment at the city college in the fall semester, and LBCC and LBUSD students have shown that they are more likely to remain enrolled at the university than other students.
The College Promise was described as a national model in a case study by the Washington, D.C.-based Business Higher Education Forum. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent agency that recommends ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state programs, cited the College Promise as a successful model, saying “more LBUSD graduates are enrolling in postsecondary courses at the city college or state university; they are better prepared than their peers from other school districts, and fewer are dropping out after their first semester.”
In October of this year, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia joined the leaders of LBUSD, LBCC and CSULB in signing a renewed and expanded Long Beach College Promise.